Poker Tournament Strategy: Do You Know How The "X Factor" Affects You?

If you play tournaments, either sit and go or regular multi-table

tournaments of any kind, online or offline, you need to be aware

of what your “X Factor” is and what to do about it.

So, what is this X Factor? It’s an abbreviated name for your

stack-ratio. OK, that really clears things up, doesn’t it?

Here’s a simple equation for calculating your X Factor:


where, STACKSIZE is your current stack size, and INITIALPOT is the

size of the pot at the start of the hand, once all blinds and antes

are in the pot.

For example, let’s say the blinds are 100/200 with antes of 25, and

there’s 8 players. That’s a total pot of 500 (100 + 200 + 200).

If your stack size is 5,000, then your X value is 10 (5,000 / 500).

If your stack size is 3,000, X = 6, Stack size 1,000, X = 2, etc.

When calculating your X, just use estimates (don’t worry about the

fractional accuracy). For example, stack size of 2,800 is “5 to 6”.

So, why does this X factor matter? Basically, X represents how many

“rounds” we have remaining against the blinds and antes. It turns

out to be a very useful rule of thumb for making some important

tournament decisions. Here’s the general guidance X provides me:

X greater than 20

At this point, we’re on easy street, in great shape and can hold out,

take a few calculated risks, become aggressive when we have a good

hand, good position or good oppt’y to bluff. We can afford to take

more chances, play a bit looser when appropriate, mix up our play.

X of 15 to 20

At this point, we’re in OK shape, can hold out for better hands,

better bluff opportunities and run some good trap plays. However,

we must try to avoid playing more than 5 X on any one hand, in order

to remain above an X of 10 (and avoid placing ourselves at undue risk).

X of 8 to 14

At this point, we should be tightening up some, protecting our stack

(and X), waiting for a good hand or bluff opportunity to come our way.

X less than 8

At this point, our stack size relative to the the blinds is becoming critical.

When our X reaches a value of 5 to 7, it’s time to shift into “push/fold”

mode (described below).

So, we should be constantly tracking our X value, and taking the X

value of our opponents into consideration as we track our situation

in the game (to predict opponents better, as well as to guide our

own play).

The rules I present above are how I play, given my solid

to tight/aggressive style (feel free to experiment and come up with

your own X Factor rules, but these will get you “in the zone”).

Now, when our X value drops below 8, I said we enter “push/fold”

mode. Here’s what I mean about an X of 7 and less and push/fold…

Push/fold is where we do one of two things: All-in or Fold. We go

all-in in order to push the other players out of these pots by

giving them poor pot odds and forcing them to either fold or enter

a showdown with us.

When I think about Push/fold mode, I treat it as much like

aggressive heads-up play as possible. That’s because if I do

end up in a showdown, it’ll likely be against one other player

who has a strong enough starting hand to call with bad pot odds

anyway (watch out for weak players, they’ll call you anytime).

At an X of 5 to 7, I’ll play any hand with an Ace in it, and

any pair that’s 5 or higher.

At lower X’s, I’ll add all pairs and any two face cards. If I

don’t pick up a decent starting hand, then it’s an instant fold.

No limping in, no calling – there’s no halfway – it’s either all-in

or it’s a fold (there’s only one exception, which I’ll discuss


Every time the blinds go up, I immediately look at my stack size

vs. the new pot size and figure out where my new X = 10 stack

size boundary will be, and whether the new blinds/antes put me into

push/fold mode risk.

For example, if the blinds go up and my new X Factor is 7 or less,

I silently begin my shift into push/fold mode.

Push/fold is basically a super-tight, super-aggressive extreme mode

of operation. This strategy provides the best opportunity to get

back into the tournament by using your remaining stack and the NL

Hold’em all-in move to your advantage (provided you pick your shots


If your X value drops and you don’t go into push/fold mode, you’ll

just end up having your stack size eroded by the blinds and antes to

the point that going all-in will change the behavior of your

opposition from having a “fold unless I have a great hand” to a

“let’s pounce on ’em!” mode of operation (probably too late for

you now).

By waiting too long to enter push/fold, you’ve lost your No Limit

power – you can’t damage or threaten anyone with an all-in move

any more… a very dangerous place to be in this game… like a

shark with no teeth!!

Of course, if you don’t get some decent starting hands, at some

point you’ll be forced to take your best shot anyway (something

that was coming no matter what).

I recommend taking that shot while you still have an X of 4 to 5

and can inflict some damage, and preferably when you’re in later

position (dealer button or the cutoff). This will give you the

best shot at stealing the blinds.

The only exception to going into push/fold mode at an X of 7 is

if I’m on the bubble (almost in the money), and other players are

in push/fold mode. By riding things out a round or two (down to

an X of 5, ideally), you have a higher liklihood of getting in

the money by letting the other short-stacked players get knocked

out first (since they’ll likely also be in push/fold mode).

If you don’t see that kind of opportunity, you’ll likely have to

take your best shot when the next big blind arrives, and see if

you can reconstitute your position.

Of course, the X Factor is only one of many factors of the game you

should be taking into consideration, but it does provide a general

framework that will help you manage your tournament play better.

I hope this information is helpful to you in your next tournament


Until next time, may the poker force be with you!

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